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I think I have covered most of the issues that were raised during the debate. I cannot see that I have a note on anything else. This is an important part of the

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Bill. The admissible objection process is clearly an area of concern and one on which there are strong views. We see it as a way of ensuring that we can make partnerships work so that operators can work with local authorities, transport authorities and so on to ensure that we have genuine partnerships that operate to the benefit of all. It is right that issues such as frequency, timing and maximum fares are part of that debate so that we can try to get consensus and an understanding of each others’ problems in providing services.

Lord Snape: Could my noble friend reassure the Committee that if two operators sat down, perhaps under the auspices of the local authority, to discuss these matters, they would not have the Office of Fair Trading bursting through the door?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I would expect an intelligent and sensitive operator to work to resolve the problem rather than to be heavy handed. In the end, we are here to provide services and to ensure that we get greater participation—more people involved in public transport and taking up the service. Later on, we will have an opportunity to debate some of the OFT issues. I am sure that the noble Lord will make his fair and trenchant views well known at that stage.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I recall that when I was managing the transport portfolio in Suffolk, the bus operators would not meet together with us because they were convinced that if they were to do so it would leave them open to a charge of collusion for which the penalties are so severe. I agree with the noble Lord’s comment. The danger is that in recent years the operations of the Office of Fair Trading have related to competition in an intellectual sense. It has lost track of its original purpose, which was to ensure benefits to the consumer. I am not confident that we have progressed that issue much further from when I first came across it in the mid-1990s or from when the Transport Act 2000 passed through your Lordships’ House. I do not believe we have advanced this debate much further since then.

5.30 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I understand the issue the noble Baroness raises. In my locality we do not have a benign monopoly, but there is provision on most routes by one company. That is not to say that there is no competition; there is a degree of it. The system works well.

We have to focus people’s attention on providing a good quality service that expands, takes on more passengers, provides a better reach, gets cars off the roads where congestion is an issue and so on. The potential environmental impact of providing a more throughgoing bus service and using a lot of unused capacity is there for all to see. Making sure that people understand the importance of that is critical to ensuring that these measures work well. I am grateful to everyone for their contributions. This has been a useful debate.

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Lord Berkeley: Before my noble friend sits down, I will try once more. If the situation is, as the noble Baroness and my noble friend have said, that the operators feel they cannot even sit in the same room together, or with a local authority, for fear of being hauled in by the Office of Fair Trading, that situation is not helpful. I do not know what is in this 150-page document because I have not read it yet, but surely it is right that the Government should give the operators some guidance or comfort so that they will sit down together, otherwise we will not make any progress.

Lord Snape: Before my noble friend replies to that specific point, perhaps I can help him out. Subsequent to the Transport Act 2000, the very same questions were put repeatedly to transport Ministers. I shall provide him with a trapdoor now by saying that the reply was inevitably, “These are not matters for the Department for Transport. You should take your concerns elsewhere”.

Lord Rosser: I understand from what my noble friend said about admissible objections that an operator can raise the issue that its objection is based on the non-viability of the services. If I have understood him correctly, the operator would then provide the information to the third party, which I believe would be the traffic commissioner, to substantiate that. Would that information be made available to the local transport authority, or—since it presumably related to the finances of the bus company—would it be information made available only to the third party and not also to the local transport authority whose quality partnership scheme was faced with an admissible objection?

On the question of viability, would an admissible objection by a bus operator be that although the services in the quality partnership were still viable, the return to the bus operator was less, in its view, than if it had been allowed to continue as it was at the moment and the quality partnership scheme had not come into operation? In other words, as a result of the changes in the quality partnership scheme, although the services were still, strictly speaking, viable, the returns to the bus operator would be reduced. Is that an admissible objection?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The second question is easier to answer than the first. We do not believe that the fact that there had been a reduction in the bus operator’s takings would be an admissible objection. That would not be captured, so it would be disapplied.

The issue of commercial information and whether that would then be entered into the public domain by being supplied to the local authority is rather more complicated. It would depend on what was submitted. I am thinking back to my time on local authorities. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, both have experience of that. We always had to respect commercial confidentiality, and had what were described as part 1 and part 2 papers. That process is well understood, for very good

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reasons. Particularly when dealing with sensitive issues like contracts, one has to be very careful. It is not easy to answer that question precisely, and I as a Minister am certainly not going to adjudicate the point today. That would be quite wrong.

Going back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Snape, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, about the involvement of the OFT and the issue of competition, it is perhaps worth asking colleagues to read the guidance, which I would argue has a more positive tone. It enables more of what needs to happen—namely, those sensible discussions—than is currently seen as being the case. The competition test in Part 2 of Schedule 10, which is introduced by Schedule 2, means that operators will not risk fines from the OFT by co-operating with local authorities. That is its effect, and it is what we want to happen.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I am grateful to the Minister. If he had just replied to the original question from the noble Lord, Lord Snape, with that answer 15 minutes ago, I would not have intervened and we could all have saved ourselves some time.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I like to think that I have shed a bit more light on the subject. I apologise for taking my time on this.

Lord Low of Dalston: The Minister has asked that I withdraw the amendment and I am prepared to do so. This has been a wide-ranging debate, as he has said. I am grateful to him for the full and thoughtful reply he has given to the points that I and other noble Lords have made. I am sorry if I took him by surprise by coming out of left field with disability issues. I hope he did not feel that I had shanghaied this worthy piece of bus transport legislation to make some points on disability access.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I do not think that at all. The noble Lord’s contribution was very useful and helpful, and I extend my gratitude to him for the way in which he made it.

Lord Low of Dalston: I thank the Minister for that. I was a bit worried that other noble Lords who obviously know a great deal more about the bus industry than I do might feel that I had commandeered the Bill for some purpose that did not properly belong there. As the Minister has appreciated, though, access to transport is an important issue for disabled people. Access to information about transport is an important part of that—timetable information in particular. I am grateful that he has been so ready to take those issues on board and will give further consideration to the points made. He may well want to come back with other safeguards rather than trying to attack the admissible objections wording in the legislation. If he wanted to give consideration to some other way of disability-proofing the legislation or providing for access for disabled people, that would be welcome. Perhaps there could be a provision about operators having to have regard to the needs of disabled people.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: Of course I shall reflect on that point, because one should. I am not certain whether we need to add any such provision, but the issue is important and I shall consult my colleagues.

Lord Low of Dalston: I am grateful for that. If I can assist at all in discussions with the Minister between now and Report, I will be happy to do so. I will not labour the point any more, since the Minister has been very gracious in acknowledging the points and indicating his willingness to think further about them.

I will make two quick supplementary points. I was grateful for the assurance that the Minister gave that viability does not require that every individual service should be viable but that the important criterion is that partnership schemes should be viable as a whole. That fully meets the point I was making on that issue.

I take it that in saying to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that in this case the Minister feels that regulations are a better route than guidance—one does not always hear that from government Ministers—he is indicating that he will be prepared to bring forward the regulations so that we can look at them before Committee.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord’s calm response, but I cannot give that undertaking. It would not be fair of me to commit to something that I cannot 100 per cent guarantee to deliver. I would like to be able to do that but I do not think that I can, and it is only fair that I say that to the Committee.

Lord Low of Dalston: That is probably about as far as one can take that point this afternoon. With those observations and, again, an expression of appreciation to the Minister for the very full way in which he responded not only to my points but to points made by other noble Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 16A not moved.]

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 17:

The noble Lord said: The Bill does not seek to amend the people and organisations required to be consulted when setting up a quality partnership scheme. In addition, the consultation requirements when proposing a quality contract remain unmodified. Therefore, the Transport Act 2000 applies, as has possibly been said before. In that document is a comprehensive list of organisations for both schemes. Included among others is the requirement to consult,

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Amendments Nos. 17 and 43 would make it a requirement for authorities to consult neighbouring local transport authorities. While that already may be the case in the majority of proposals, such as when bus routes cross LTA boundaries, there is a need for the consultation of neighbouring authorities to be more explicit. This should be the case especially for quality contracts.

Consultation will allow authorities to have their view on any proposed scheme and raise any concerns. Conversely, taking a more positive outlook, consultation would allow neighbouring transport authorities to collaborate and make provision in their own transport plans for proposed changes in their neighbour’s area. Either way, consultation would surely prove a beneficial exercise.

In addition, the right to appeal against a quality contract, given on page 23, line 23, is based on whether a person has been consulted during the consultation stage. Assuming neighbouring authorities have this right will ensure that schemes are properly thought out and implemented.

Amendment No. 44 would ensure that Network Rail and local train companies are consulted when a quality contract scheme is proposed. For similar reasons to those on the other amendments, I would argue that bodies to do with rail infrastructure should be explicitly mentioned on the list to be consulted. That is relevant to some previous amendments that we moved today about comprehensive transport arrangements. This will enable local transport authorities and the local rail industry to ensure good connections between local road and rail services and rail stations, and co-ordination of bus and rail timetables. That joint working is particularly important given the powers in the Bill to enable local authorities to introduce road-charging schemes—something that we shall get on to later. Such charging schemes will inevitably displace drivers and freight from roads and place extra pressure on rail and bus services, which makes co-ordination all the more important.

Especially when considering the role of new integrated transport authorities to consider integration between all modes of transport, it makes good sense that local transport authorities should consult Network Rail and local train companies on any plans produced when specifying the extent and quality of bus services through quality contract schemes. Requiring local transport authorities to consult Network Rail and local train companies on the provision of local bus services will help to ensure that local areas develop a comprehensive, integrated public transport system across all modes that is able to cope with the added pressure of road-charging schemes. Would the Minister agree that the amendment is justified given the overall tone of the Bill to improving public transport in the broadest sense? I beg to move.

5.45 pm

Baroness Crawley: I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that neighbouring authorities should be consulted by a local transport

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authority that proposes to make either a quality partnership scheme or a quality contract scheme. However, I do not agree that the two amendments are necessary, because adequate provision is already in the Transport Act 2000 that the noble Lord quoted.

Both Section 115 of the Act, for quality partnership schemes, and Section 125, for quality contract schemes, require the authority promoting the scheme to consult any relevant local authority that might be affected by it. These include other local transport authorities, district councils and authorities in London and Scotland that by definition cannot be directly affected by a scheme under the 2000 Act.

Any local authority, in determining whom it should consult, must act rationally and reasonably in carrying out any of its functions. As the noble Lord will know from his vast experience in local government, any failure to do that could be challenged in the courts. On that basis, I do not believe that any more than that is needed, and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

On Amendment No. 44, I am not persuaded by the noble Lord that the introduction of a quality contract scheme would be likely to have a significant effect on rail infrastructure. It can never do any harm to consult—the noble Lord raised integrated transport, on which we agree consultation would be important. Local transport authorities are not confined to the list of statutory consultees in Section 125 of the Transport Act 2000. If it is appropriate to consult a manager in Network Rail, they should do so. It may be as helpful to them as it is to Network Rail to have a dialogue of this kind. However, I do not see any merit in making this a statutory requirement which must always be complied with. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hanningfield: I thank the noble Baroness for her answer. She certainly sympathised with my view that these people need to be consulted. We would have liked them to have been mentioned. One could say that while local authorities are sufficiently covered, there is no requirement for the rail side of things. Road, rail and buses will increasingly be drawn together. I know that proposals exist to create new stations, which will affect bus and other modes of transport. It would therefore be sensible to include rail among the statutory consultees. However, I was reassured by what the noble Baroness said on the local government side. We will reflect on the rail issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clauses 13 to 16 agreed to.

Baroness Crawley: This may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn until next Wednesday at 3.45 pm.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Simon): The Committee stands adjourned until Wednesday 12 December at 3.45 pm.

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